In my 20s, my friends were graduating from college with amazing degrees, getting high-paying jobs, marrying attractive people and starting picture-perfect families. I had no clue what I was doing with my life, and nothing was going according to plan.
I was working part-time in retail, going through the motions in college, and I had yet to be in a single romantic relationship, let alone getting serious about marriage or starting a family. I felt like a failure because I was still single and I hadn’t seen the professional success I expected.
I was harder on myself than anyone else was.
But failure is often in the eyes of the beholder, and I was the beholder. In God’s eyes, I wasn’t the failure I thought I was.
I just needed to give God control of my failure.
Trying to reach life’s milestones on schedule
The times when I felt like I was failing the worst were the times when I was trying hardest to compete or keep up with everyone else. And there was no shortage of people to compare myself to.
People around me were making it through checkpoint after checkpoint without breaking a sweat. I, on the other hand, wasn’t gaining any traction. I didn’t reach any of the milestones they did when they did, so I was way behind in my mind. Sometimes I felt like I was running a different race.
At first, I was lonely and depressed. When I wasn’t working or studying, I was looking through Facebook and coveting the life I dreamed of having. I pitied myself because nobody else would.
They’re all succeeding where I’m failing, so I must be doing something wrong, I’d think as I listened to Coldplay’s “Fix You” on repeat for hours at a time.
The depression turned into bitterness and jealousy. No one could share good news about his or her life without nauseating and annoying me. Keep it to yourself, would you? I’d think. Nobody cares about your perfect life.
Truth is, I cared.
I cared too much, in fact.
But I shouldn’t have.
God makes His own plans
I felt like a failure because I wasn’t meeting expectations and goals in life. My goals and my expectations.
Turns out I was a failure for different reasons. I was putting my timeline for happiness ahead of God’s, failing to love and appreciate the plan God had for me. Instead of praising God for His plan and finding success on the path He paved for my life, I treated His will like it wasn’t good enough.
I wanted to be successful on my own terms, not His. I wanted worldly success instead of success in knowing Him and His will. But if God had wanted my life to look any differently, it would have.
God had a better plan in place. And His plan for me didn’t revolve around what everyone else was accomplishing. His plan was unique to my relationship with Him.
I’ve had to learn God’s will one day at a time. I’ve never had a clue or peek at what tomorrow will hold apart from the promises He’s revealed in Scripture. That’s why Proverbs 16:3 always resonates with me when I feel like my best laid plans aren’t coming to fruition: “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”
Regarding this verse, Pastor Tim Keller wrote, “The wise accept that ‘even if our human plans are subverted, we can recognize an even deeper plan at work in our lives,’ namely, the all-wise and good will of God (Romans 8:28).”
God’s plan has the last word on success
Fortunately, God doesn’t measure success and failure the same way we do.
If God’s plan for my life doesn’t include getting married by a certain age, having children or being well respected as a leading professional, then how can I be a failure for not reaching those goals?
Being successful or being a failure doesn’t depend on where I am today as much as it depends on how I got here and how I move forward. Success depends on how I’m looking to honor God through my present and future circumstances, not my ability to keep up with the crowd, hitting milestones “according to schedule.”
Giving God control of my failure
Beyond God revealing His detailed plan for my life through my present circumstances, Scripture guides me toward success. Proverbs 3:3-4 says binding steadfast love around my neck and writing faithfulness on my heart is the key to finding “favor and good success in the sight of God and man.”
This implies that I only truly fail when I forget God’s love and ignore His faithfulness in my life. I’ve only been a failure when I’ve put my plans, my hopes and my desires ahead of His plan and the success He wants for me.
If your life isn’t panning out as you expected, if you feel like a failure because you’re not hitting life’s milestones along with everyone else, or if you have a hard time finding contentment in your present circumstances, give God control of your failure.
Until you let God determine what your failures and successes are, you’ll never find the success you’re not looking for.
Copyright 2019 Matt Stickel. All rights reserved.